For high school graduates life is full of hope and wonder. They are stepping into adulthood; they are just starting to open new doors looking around to see what path to take and try to figure out if it is the right one. No one expects bad things to happen. Of course, in an ideal world this is a way for all high school graduates, but in the real world the reality collides with dreams and ideals and life throws unexpected situations at everyone. Ready or not, life does not wait for anyone. Juan Rivera and Ariana King, two 18 year olds freshly out of high school, did not expect or even imagined how drastically their lives would change in an instant.
They are sweethearts fresh out of High school. First summer after graduation, Juan and Ariana were enjoying their time together, making plans for the future and waiting excitedly to see what great things they will do with their lives. July can be very hot in Des Moines, IA, so to cool off and enjoy good food and fun with family and friends the couple went to a pool party at Juan’s grandparents’ house. No one expected what happened next.
“My boyfriend and I were at his grandma’s having a carne asada and we were playing around,” Ariana recounts the horrific event that changed her and Juan’s life forever. “He tossed me into the pool fully dressed and me, he, and his cousins were playing around. They begged us to jump in again, and when Juan jumped he didn’t come back.”
Unfortunately, he jumped in such way that he got hurt badly. The group saw him floating face down and they joked thinking he was fooling around, but quickly everyone realized something went terribly wrong. The family quickly pulled Juan out of the pool and did CPR and called an ambulance. When the ambulance arrived and Juan regained consciousness, the terrible truth dawned on him like a bomb exploded in his life and rearranged everything into small puzzle pieces that do not fit together yet. Juan realized he could not feel anything, his legs, his arms were there but he could not feel them.
“He went to the Methodist ICU where they determined he has a C5 compression fracture and was paralyzed shoulders down,” RaChelle Lane, Ariana’s mother, explained. “He spent 4 weeks in ICU I honestly did not think he would make it out of here.”
In spite of everyone’s worst fear, Juan made out of ICU and on August 13 he was moved to the spinal rehab hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska. The grueling therapy, but above all the emotional acceptance of the fact that Juan and Ariana’s life will never be the same is difficult. Before the accident happened Juan was like any other 18 year old. He enjoyed spending time with family, friends and Ariana. As any other young man of his age he enjoyed listening to music, watching movies and having a nice meal.
“Since his accident his life has been turned upside down,” Mrs. Lane shares. “To be an 18 year old boy and not be able to go to the bathroom like he did before, to be told you will most likely never walk again, drive again, have kids, etc. is devastating.”
She added that first he was paralyzed shoulders down so could not even embrace Ariana, but now he has some bicep and tricep function, but this is certainly not enough to be able to feed himself or even use his phone as he did before. Nothing is the same and never will be.
Ariana stands by Juan. Yes, life threw a huge wrench at their life plans, but she does not lose hope. Both of them are trying to find the best in the worst imaginable situation.
“The doctors told us he would never walk again, but God does make miracles happen and that is more than enough hope for us,” Ariana said. “It’s what keeps me going. It’s what keeps Juan going. He is the most outgoing, sweet man I have ever met and I couldn’t be proud of him. He is so beyond strong, his determination to get stronger and to helped me [to] be more strong. His life changed, yes, but we have a whole new life we are excited to experience it and see where God takes us, and pray for a bigger recovery.”
This couple’s priorities and dreams changed after the accident. Now they are working on putting together the pieces of a new puzzle of life. They both are learning to look for solace in their faith. Juan is wishing to get his confirmation and to start going to church and be more involved in it. According to Mrs. Lane, before the accident happened Ariana was moving fast towards a wrong path in her life, but “in a way this accident saved her.” Ariana looked for God and family to fill her life.
“She found purpose and finally understood what it meant to love selflessly,” Mrs. Lane shared her observations of her daughter’s growth after the accident. “She has not left his side in 12 weeks. She spent every night in the ICU then moved with him to Lincoln where she learned to care for him.”
In order to be there for Juan, Ariana applied to be his caregiver 24/7. She had to learn to get him cleaned, dressed, fed, groomed, handle his bowel care and catheter, get him in and out of his wheelchair and bed.
“He wants her at his side yet apart of him. [He] hates that she has to do this and she loves him and wants to stay committed, but misses being a teenager with no responsibility,” Mrs. Lane explained the emotional rollercoaster that these two young people go through almost every day. “Overnight she had to grow up. She cries and prays, but tries to take care of herself, so she can care for him. She now gets what parenting is like.”
While both families of this couple are dealing with the emotional side of this horrific accident, there is always a financial side that does not ever disappear. Juan has 5 siblings and his home was not handicapped accessible. Juan’s mother still was searching for the right place where Juan could be comfortable. Ariana and Juan took matters in their own hands and made a decision to get their own ADA compliant apartment, where Juan can feel comfortable in his wheelchair. Although a lot of people helped Juan and Ariana to set up their apartment together by donating many things necessary for everyday life, there are still some things they need to get in order to fully and safely attend to Juan’s needs. Ariana is a small young woman and it is unsafe for her to be able to help Juan to get in a shower every day. The money is tight for two young people and insurance does not pay for extras or necessary things of good quality. Neither Ariana, not Juan’s mother can afford at this moment to convert their vans into a wheelchair accessible vehicle. So every time the couple needs to leave their apartment a lot of preparations have to be made, including paying at least $80 out of pocket for transportation, even of it is as close as a 10-minute ride. Also, he might have left rehab, but this was just the beginning.
“4 weeks in ICU and then 8 weeks in Spinal rehab,” Mrs. Lane explains. “His care didn’t stop there. He now needs to see a Spine doctor, chiropractor, someone in urology, and a physical therapist, plus there are things he needs every day to prevent infections and tubing etc. Being paralyzed affects your body composition, your body temperature – he gets cold easy. He gets UTI easily, he has to watch his circulation… and the list goes on.”
While trying to live taking one day at a time, Juan and Ariana and their families try hard to raise awareness about being careful about diving without knowing how shallow the water is.
“Kids and teens should never dive into a shallow pool or an unknown area of water especially if they are not trained to. This was a cookout and family pool party that ended badly that haunts the grandparents. Juan has talked about being an advocate for others who had similar injuries, but I think he wishes he could just wake up and have this be a bad dream so he can have his life back.”
“Little mistakes like this can change your whole life and it is important to be cautious of your surroundings and to be careful,” Ariana agreed.
Being so young Ariana and Juan are struggling financially.
“We are both 18 and he requires around the clock care so I currently have no income coming in. Any donations would be a blessing for us because there are things very beneficial to Juan that we just cant afford for him right now,” Ariana explained.
Or you can make at deposit at Des Moines Metro Credit Union located at 100 University Avenue
Des Moines, IA. The account is in the name of RaChelle Ann Lane, Ariana’s mom
You can also contact Juan’s primary caretaker Ariana King at (515) 689-8896 or by email [email protected]